ELIZABETHTOWN — Although this year will mark the first in 34 years that no women serve on the Essex County Board of Supervisors, the next one will get to sit in a historic chair.
The Essex County general election in November saw the removal of all four women on the board against male opponents.
But this week, the Inez Milholland Chair was dedicated by those four outgoing lawmakers, and it will be sitting in the Old County Courthouse at Elizabethtown, waiting for the next woman elected to the Board of Supervisors.
A Lewis resident, Milholland fought for women’s rights, especially the right to vote, in the early 1900s.
“She worked tirelessly for the cause of American women,” outgoing Supervisor Margaret Bartley (D-Elizabethtown) said during the ceremony.
“In 1916, while delivering a speech in Los Angeles, she fell ill and died a few weeks later at the age of 30.”
She said Milholland’s body was returned to her home at Meadowmount Farm in Lewis. She was buried in Lewis Cemetery with more than 2,000 people in attendance.
“Four years after her (Milholland’s) death, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was passed in 1920, giving American women the right to vote,” Bartley said.
“It took another 60 years, in 1980, before a woman became a member of the Essex County Board of Supervisors.”
In 1980, Florence Hathaway of Willsboro and Mildred Dobie of North Hudson were the first women on the board, followed by Joyce Morency of St. Armand in 1981.
Bartley said that on Sept. 19, 1911, Milholland addressed the Essex County Board of Supervisors on women’s rights. The supervisor read Milholland’s remarks aloud.
“Women have the same interests as men: in clean government, good roads and sound education,” Milholland told lawmakers in 1911. “Yet they have nothing whatever to say about the laws. These questions are handled by a (state) legislature, which pays no attention to the wants, the needs or the voice of women.”
Milholland soon took her case to the Essex County Republican Convention in Lake Placid and received a unanimous vote of support from its members.
Two years after that, she led a parade of 8,000 women who marched on Washington, D.C., in support of women’s rights just before President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration.
Bartley said that, according to the U.S. Census, there are 18,740 women living in Essex County, and after Jan. 1, 2014, they “will no longer have a representative or a voice in county government.”
Board of Supervisors Chair Randy Douglas (D-Jay) praised the departing women supervisors for their work.
“We’re certainly going to miss you. I thank you for all you’ve given of your time. You were all dedicated public servants.”
County Manager Daniel Palmer said lightheartedly that, when he became county manager, one of the women on the board gave him a pin that said “Just do what the women say,” and he still wears it.
Outgoing Supervisor Debra Malaney (R-Ticonderoga) pointed out that the Inez Milholland Society has been formed to encourage, mentor and support Essex County women who want to run for elective office at the county, town or village level.
“The Inez Milholland Chair would be reserved for the next Essex County woman supervisor who joins this board,” Malaney said. “It would be used by her and passed on to subsequent women who are elected to this office.”
Outgoing Supervisor Sharon Boisen (I-Essex) said Milholland is someone all women can still be proud of today.
“Sadly, a full 100 years after Inez Milholland rallied for women’s rights, the good old boys have successfully eradicated woman from local government in Essex County. Women have come so close, yet remain so far away from truly being liberated.”
Outgoing Supervisor Sue Montgomery Corey (D-Minerva) read a list of the 19 women who have served on the Essex County Board of Supervisors since 1980.
“It ain’t gonna be the same without you,” Supervisor Roby Politi (R-North Elba) told them when she’d finished.
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Inez Milholland (Aug. 6, 1886-Nov. 25, 1916) was a labor lawyer, World War I correspondent and public speaker who greatly influenced the Women's Right to Vote movement in America.
Though she was born in Brooklyn, her home was at Meadowmount Farm in the Town of Lewis. Contact the Inez Milholland Society for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org